DOG TALK: Blog #1 OCT 2019
By Jessica Fox -

To Leash or Not To Leash...That Is the Question

As a dog walker and pack hiker, I spend a great deal of time in public parks, both with clients’ dogs and with my own dog. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times a loose dog has come barreling towards me and my dog or pack of dogs. Sometimes, the dog’s owner is running frantically behind their dog making it obvious that the dog is in the midst of an escape attempt. However, other times, I see a calm dog owner strolling way behind yelling “don’t worry, he’s friendly!” All the while my reactive dog or my normally calm and collected group is going berserk! If you are one of the many dog owners who allow your dog to be off leash in public spaces, or you are toying with the idea of giving your dog more freedom on walks, here are a few risks, tips, and alternatives to consider:

1.) Choose Your Park Wisely:
If you are reading this in the State of New Jersey (or many towns in New York State), let me preface this section by saying, keeping your dog on leash in public spaces is the law. If you do choose to allow your dog to run off leash you assume all liability for anything that goes wrong.
That said if you still want to allow your dog to walk or hike off leash, it is important to choose your park wisely. It is never a good idea, no matter how well behaved your dog may be, to do off leash activities in heavily trafficked public parks. The experience of loose dogs running around can be particularly distressful for people who are fearful of dogs or for dogs that may be reactive to other dogs. The bottom line here is to be considerate; there are plenty of out of the way trails and spaces where your dog can stretch his legs!

2.) Develop a solid recall:
This next one is so important; I struggled with whether or not to put it first on the list. Before you even think of allowing your dog off leash, you must develop a reliable recall. This means that regardless of the distraction: people, dogs, squirrels, etc., your dog will drop what he is doing and come back to you upon request. While this may seem obvious, in my experience, a lot of people just assume their dog will come when they call and are shocked when their dog completely ignores them, in public no less!
In short, it is imperative to make sure your dog will come when you call them and to always be prepared to leash them up at a moment’s notice.

3.) Consider other options:
We just talked about the importance of developing a solid recall with your dog. What I didn’t mention is that, no matter how much you practice, there is no such thing as a 100 percent recall.
So now what you ask? Try hiking or walking your dog on a 15 or 20 foot long line. This will give you and your dog the ability to maneuver as needed during hikes, will give your dog more freedom to explore the environment, all while giving you the control you need to keep your dog and the public safe. Using a long line is also a great way to transition between on and off leash activity while you are developing your dog’s recall.

Join me next time where I will be discussing what to do when you and your dog are approached by a loose dog.